Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mercury and CFLs

For the past year or so, stories about the hazards associated with the mercury content of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) has surfaced once and awhile. By reaching further than just the local headlines, I wanted to find out for myself what the deal was.

Firstly, there is indeed mercury in a CFL, which would be hazardous for the environment and people's health if disposed of inadequately. In Chicago, there are two main ways to dispose of burnt-out CFLs:

- City of Chicago's Household Products and Electronics Recycling Center, located at 1150 North Branch (this site will also accept a wide range of other kinds of waste)
- IKEA and Home Depot, every store has containers for recycled CFLs

So the disposal is one thing, but what happens if you happen to break one in your home? The City of Chicago states that "[there] is not enough mercury to harm you if a bulb breaks...", while some newspaper articles say different. Actually, the truth lies somewhere in between - you can certainly clean it up yourself, but you better take precautions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued guidelines for how to handled a broken CFL, which are fairly straight forward.

At last, I wanted to share with you a study conducted in part by the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy at UIC. In the study, a life-cycle assessment, the author concludes that the amount of mercury released through the use of CFLs is far lower than that from the use of normal light bulbs. This has mainly to do with the lower energy use, which lowers the use of fossile fuel for electricity generation. The study also points out the economical benefits or retrofitting a home, business, or dorm with CFLs. Read the whole study here.

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